page_title_detailed

About Breast Cancer>Side Effects > High cholesterol

High cholesterol

general_content

You may have heard of “good” or “bad” cholesterol. The bad cholesterol is called low-density lipoprotein (LDL). It can build up in your arteries and stop blood from flowing through your body the way it should. The good cholesterol is called high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It can slow or stop bad cholesterol from building up. Keeping bad cholesterol low is an important part of being healthy.

 

 

on_this_page
general_content

Causes of high cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans have too much cholesterol in their blood. Some people are born with a higher risk of developing high cholesterol. Others develop high cholesterol because of smoking, not exercising enough, or not eating healthy. Foods that are high in saturated fat, such as many meats, eggs, and dairy products, and some baked goods, can raise the amount of cholesterol in your body to an unhealthy level.

Certain breast cancer treatments, such as aromatase inhibitors (AIs), can also lead to high cholesterol. If you have hormone receptor-positive breast cancer and are postmenopausal, you may take an AI such as anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), or letrozole (Femara). These medicines lower your risk of cancer coming back by lowering the amount of estrogen in your body.

Research shows about 15 to 20 percent of women who take aromatase inhibitors develop high cholesterol. It also suggests women who take aromatase inhibitors for more than 5 years may have a higher risk of high cholesterol than those whose treatment ends earlier. Exemestane may not be as likely to raise cholesterol levels as the other AIs. Ask your doctor why they recommend a certain AI and whether it may cause high cholesterol.

Other breast cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy (to the left side of the chest, over the heart) and some of the HER2-targeting therapies like trastuzumab (Herceptin) are known to cause other types of heart problems. Research suggests if you had high cholesterol before you started treatment with these, you could be more at risk for heart problems from those treatments than people with lower cholesterol before treatment.

general_content

Treating high cholesterol

Exercise and a low-fat, high-fiber diet is recommended to lower cholesterol. But you may also need medicine. Statins are the most common medicine used to treat high cholesterol. By changing the way your liver makes cholesterol, statins can lower your level of bad cholesterol and raise your level of good cholesterol. Statins should be taken once a day by mouth. Atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor) are two of the most well-known statins. Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, bile-acid-binding resins and injectable medicines that help the liver absorb more cholesterol are also options for treating high cholesterol. Whether these medicines affect how well cancer treatments work is not known but is a subject of ongoing research.

After prescribing you medicine for high cholesterol, your doctor will order regular blood tests to see how the medicine is working.

Common side effects of medicines that treat high cholesterol include muscle pain and stomach issues such as diarrhea, nausea, constipation, and pain.

general_content

Measuring cholesterol

High cholesterol doesn’t usually have any symptoms. You need a blood test to find out what your cholesterol levels are. Many doctors give these tests as part of an annual physical exam, but you can ask for one at any time. Your cancer team may also test for cholesterol levels during blood work related to treatment. It’s OK to ask your doctor if they’ve tested your cholesterol level and what they found.

The amount of cholesterol in your body is measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliters of blood, written as “mg/dL.” Guidelines recommend that

  • Bad cholesterol, or LDL, be under 130 mg/dL
  • Good cholesterol, or HDL, be over 40 mg/dL
  • Total cholesterol be under 200 mg/dL

Healthcare providers generally recommend everyone get their cholesterol levels checked at least every few years. Ask your team how often they recommend you get tested. They may want to test your blood more often than that while you’re being treated for breast cancer.

general_content

Lowering the risk of high cholesterol

You can lower your risk of high cholesterol by

  • Exercising
  • Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Lowering stress
  • Not smoking

Your healthcare providers may be able to give you tips or direct you to a nutritionist or other provider who can help you make your lifestyle healthier.

about_this_page_tabbed_module

Reviewed and updated: March 29, 2017

Reviewed by: Lillie D. Shockney RN, BS, MAS

Tagged:

Was this page helpful?

Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

related_resources_article_carousel

Related articles

Scalp cooling to help prevent hair loss

08/26/22 | BY: Mikel Ross

Scalp cooling is a therapy that helps some people lose less or no hair during chemotherapy treatment.

Read More | 8 Min. Read |

Early menopause

08/26/22 | BY: Ann Honebrink

If you are premenopausal or perimenopausal, breast cancer treatments — including surgery to remove ovaries, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy — may cause your menstrual periods to stop for a while or, in some cases, permanently.

Read More | 9 Min. Read |

Chemobrain

08/26/22 | BY: Arash Asher

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and you’ve had trouble concentrating on a task, remembering words or directions, doing several things at once, or recalling a date or phone number, you may be experiencing cognitive changes after cancer treatment, often called “chemobrain.”

Read More | 5 Min. Read |

Insomnia and fatigue

08/19/22 | BY: Dianne L. Hyman

Cancer-related insomnia and fatigue are very common with a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and can develop for many reasons. Insomnia is difficulty falling and staying asleep. Cancer-related fatigue is significant tiredness, exhaustion, and weakness that is not relieved after sleeping.

Read More | 10 Min. Read |

Heart health

08/15/22 | BY: Lori Ranallo

Heart problems are a rare but serious side effect of some medicines used to treat breast cancer. These medicines can damage the heart muscle and its ability to pump blood as well as it should.

Read More | 11 Min. Read

Hand-foot syndrome

08/15/22 | BY: Lori Ranallo

Hand-foot syndrome, also called palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia, is a skin reaction on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Certain cancer medicines can cause hand-foot syndrome. But even if you are given a cancer medicine known to cause hand-foot syndrome, there are things you can do to lessen the chances of developing it.

Read More | 9 Min. Read

Pain

08/15/22 | BY: Lori Ranallo

It’s very common to worry about whether breast cancer and its treatment will cause pain. People diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer may experience pain caused by the cancer or its treatment. Still, not everyone experiences pain.

Read More | 12 Min. Read

Neutropenia

08/15/22 | BY: Evelyn Robles-Rodriguez

Neutropenia is a condition caused by lower-than-normal amounts of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. Chemotherapy can cause neutropenia because it kills rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells and healthy white blood cells. Other cancer treatments can also cause neutropenia.

Read More | 10 Min. Read

Neuropathy

08/15/22 | BY: Lori Ranallo

Neuropathy is a medical term used to describe pain or discomfort caused by damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that control movement and sensations in the arms and legs. Some breast cancer treatments can damage these nerves, causing neuropathy.

Read More | 9 Min. Read |

Nausea and vomiting

08/15/22 | BY: Evelyn Robles-Rodriguez

Nausea is a feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit. It's a common side effect of some types of breast cancer treatment.

Read More | 9 Min. Read |